The Alfa Romeo Tonale is the brand's current make-or-break vehicle, which will resurrect the brand's fortunes and reintroduce it to the general automobile customer. That is the intention, but this is not the first time Alfa Romeo has found itself in this scenario. The 156 was a minor success in the 1990s, but the Alfa Romeo 159, despite its stunning appearance, was unable to maintain its momentum. Alfa Romeo's Giulietta limped along, but the Giulia and Stelvio were a commercial failure as a critical success. And the Alfa Romeo 4C is best left unmentioned.
While we adore the Alfa Romeo Giulia, a conventional saloon with excellent driving dynamics but a mediocre interior and infotainment system, it was not the ideal car for the times. However, Alfa is at least looking in the correct direction this time. A premium-style crossover SUV with purely hybrid powertrains and an electric variant on the way could not be more 2022.
The disadvantage of breaking into such a crowded area is that the Tonale will face stiff competition and need to find a method to differentiate itself. Except for Ferrari and Caterham, almost every car manufacturer has a stake in this race. The BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3, Volvo XC40, and Range Rover Evoque are the most apparent competitors. However, you might argue that upscale variants of the Hyundai Tucson and Peugeot 3008 are also viable alternatives.
It is uninspiring that the Tonale enters the fray with an architecture that is a development of the 2005 Fiat Punto. Hybrid power was still considered a fringe 'environmental craze', but no one is laughing anymore. At the very least, we suspect, Alfa's engineers as they struggled to find space for the battery pack in the plug-in hybrid version. The regular hybrid proved a bit simpler to work with, as its 0.8kWh battery fits comfortably into the center tube.
Jeep laid the framework for the Alfa Romeo Tonale since it is mainly based on the Jeep Compass, which is available with similar powertrains. And it is a little concerning since that automobile, in our experience, is pretty rough and ready in several respects.
The Alfa Romeo Tonale was notably delayed by 12 weeks when new CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of current prototypes. However, the UK's first deliveries are now scheduled for September, so let us hope the extra time spent fine-tuning things comes off.
Today, we are driving the 158bhp hybrid. Consider it a muscular mild-hybrid rather than a complete combination since the electric motor housed in the gearbox produces just 20bhp to augment the 1.5-liter engine's low-end torque. It can drive the car autonomously, but it helps maneuver or inch forward in traffic with such limited power. There is also a 130bhp variant, which we previously tested in the Jeep Renegade, but the UK will only receive the 158bhp version.
The alternative powertrain choice is a plug-in hybrid, a more powerful version of Jeep's 4xe. The Italian automobile's 1.3-liter engine and electric motor create 271bhp rather than the Jeep's 237bhp, owing to a larger electric motor and a 15.5kWh battery.
Alfa Romeo owes it to its athletic heritage to guarantee that even its crossover SUV handles with verve and enthusiasm. It is a natively front-wheel drive, with a rear-wheel drive given by an electric motor in the plug-in hybrids. Its rivals, notably the BMW X1, are also front-wheel drive, so there is no reason to be embarrassed.
The Alfa Romeo Tonale has a highly fast steering rack (2.3 turns lock to lock), torque vectoring via braking, standard, and adaptive frequency-selective dampers, and four-piston to provide more driving engagement than the average class brakes on the range-topping Veloce.
The required inquiry is whether this is the car that will save Alfa Romeo. We certainly hope so, as it is a legendary brand, but in summary, it is not the game-changer it indeed should have been.
While engineers would argue that the little electric motor and battery are 'appropriately proportioned,' they are far too small to deliver a believable hybrid experience. However, when pushed, the engine engages immediately and becomes pretty buzzy. It outperforms Honda and Kia's full hybrids, but a petrol 2.0-liter BMW X1 will be quicker and more refined.
Likewise, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission: is adequate, but if you are coming from a BMW eight-speed automatic, you are unlikely to be impressed with the smoothness, quickness, or shift points selected. You can take control via manual mode on the gear selector or the Veloce's massive metal paddles, but who are you kidding with a 158bhp crossover SUV?
The car's technical briefing also went into great detail on how the Tonale handles like a 'true Alfa,' with additional chassis reinforcement and geometry adjustments to ensure that it is more fun to drive and more comfortable than the 'best competitor.' As a result, the Tonale is one of the segment's more exciting possibilities to its credit.
It features Alfa's trademark ultra-quick fixed-ratio steering, but it lacks nervousness. Body roll is minimal, and you are rarely left lacking for grip or reaction owing to Pirelli P Zero tires. However, the handling falls short of excellence, as you must apply considerable force to the steering wheel before it responds.
Fortunately, the aggressive handling does not come at the expense of ride comfort. While it is pretty stiff on 20in wheels, it is well-controlled and not crashy. Veloce grade adds adaptive dampers, although the comfort setting feels reasonably comparable to the passive setup, so they are not a significant improvement. A Ti-spec vehicle with regular 18in wheels would almost certainly be chosen.
Despite Alfa's public relations emphasis on the vehicle's dynamics, the car is perhaps at its finest as a highway mile-eater. Without bringing out the noise meter, the Tonale appears to be one of the quietest cars in this class at highway speeds, with both road and suspension noise well-muffled. Meanwhile, the chairs are situated relatively high and are pretty comfy.
However, the remainder of the interior is a letdown. Alfa Romeo must do more than this somewhat jumbled bag of components if it wishes to be a real challenger to the likes of BMW. It is not horrible, but nothing is appealing either.
A Nissan Qashqai is less avant-garde in appearance but exudes a more believable impression of luxury. And what happened to the gorgeous silky leather that was once synonymous with Italian luxury automobiles? At the very least, it matches the rest of the class in terms of practicality: the boot space and rear legroom are comparable to those of an X1, but the interior feels slightly cramped, and the A- and C-pillars are rather chunky.
The infotainment system is identical to that used in current ex-FCA Stellantis vehicles. It would have been wonderful if Alfa could have customized the styling a little more. Still, aside from BMWs and their rapidly vanishing iDrive controller, this is one of the more logical and responsive systems available and thus a tiny issue.
Thus, we have a handsome SUV with above-average driving dynamics, long-distance comfort, excellent multimedia capabilities, and an average powerplant and interior. Prices have not been revealed officially yet, but we are informed they will start at about 40,000 euros.
If that is true, the Alfa Romeo Tonale will represent an excellent deal — somewhat more than a comparably equipped Qashqai but less than the premium competition. We have no idea how much the option packs will cost, which might put a wrench in the works.
The Alfa Romeo Tonale is a competent automobile, but it lacks the home-run ability or just the old-school charm necessary to inspire complete faith in the brand's future.